Retracing the Footsteps - Peter Ramm
In April 2012 Reg Yates and I explored one of the southern routes used by Lark Force as they attempted to escape from the Japanese in 1942.
I had two uncles in Lark Force, Don and David Smith, my mother’s brothers and I was interested in see how hard things might have been for them. Neither returned having lost their lives on the Montevideo Maru and so I had no first hand accounts of their journey.
I’d walked with Reg before and greatly respected his knowledge of military history. He was therefore an ideal travelling companion.
Our journey started in Rabaul, a town which is located in picturesque setting surrounded by hills and volcanoes. We did a couple of short walks there. One was over the North Daughter, the largest hill to the north of Rabaul. From the top we had superb views of Rabaul and the harbour. Another was to Matupi, the volcano. It was quite an adventure, paddling across the bay in a dug out canoe before ascending to the top and looking down into a spectacular, steaming, crater.
Our walk proper started near Riet, about 40 km south of Rabaul and continued to Toll. The jungle was pleasant and had lots of birds including parrots and hornbills. We stayed in villages where there were villages and in the bush where there were none. Both were good and interesting. The villagers were very interested in who we were and what we were doing. They (every one of them it seemed) shook our hands as we were leaving their village. In one they also put on quite an elaborate dance for us.
The bush camping was more basic, but quite comfortable. We even had eels a couple of mornings, freshly caught and stewed with bush vegetables.
The walk demonstrated to me, in a very real sense, the difficulties faced by my 2 uncles and the rest of Lark force some 70 years early. Not only was the country tough, but they had no plan for a withdrawal, and little or no food, clothing or medical supplies. All very different from our well organised walk. So whilst I found it challenging, I can now imagine how much harder it would have been for the soldiers.
We ended at Toll. It was moving to see the simple monument to the massacre of 160 Australians and from it to look out to jungle where they were killed.
We stayed in Rabaul for ANZAC day. There were 3 services, the Dawn Service, another at the Montevideo Maru Memorial, and third at Bita Paka war cemetery. Each was supported a guard of the local police and a wonderful choir. Each service was different and all were excellent; a fitting tribute to our soldiers. I had the privilege of wearing my uncles’ medals at each.
All up, a wonderful trip, a great adventure, and I now have a better understanding of the difficulties faced by Lark Force.